Middleton earns high praise as Bucks coach Budenholzer rues 'unfortunate' scuffle
Mike Budenholzer hailed a "really special" game from Khris Middleton and described a scuffle that marred the closing moments as "unfortunate" as the Milwaukee Bucks won 133-124 against the Sacramento Kings.
Three-time All-Star Middleton's 31 points were a season-high, shooting nine-of-15 from the field and adding nine assists. He was the perfect sidekick for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who ended up scoring 46 points on 19-of-28 shooting, with 12 rebounds and four assists.
It was Antetokounmpo's sixth game this season with at least 45 points, while no other player has more than Luka Doncic and Joel Embiid's four.
Sacramento's Domantas Sabonis had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, completing his 10th triple-double of the season.
The game's final stages saw tensions boil over as Sacramento's Trey Lyles and Milwaukee's Brook Lopez were ejected after an ugly melee.
That set-to broke out with 15.4 seconds remaining, sparked by a shove on Antetokounmpo by Lyles, with Lopez stepping in and squaring up to the Kings man, leading to a mass grappling match at courtside.
Budenholzer said that moment was "just unfortunate" as he preferred to look at the positives from a fine road win.
"I think it was a great game, a lot of good things happened," Budenholzer said. "I was so impressed by Sacramento and the way they played, and it was good for our guys to fight back in the second half. I'm really not going to say anything about what did or didn't happen. To me, it was unfortunate."
At one point in the game, Lopez needed patching up as blood flowed from a wound on his face. He and the Bucks came back strongly after trailing 49-33 to get the win, improving their NBA-leading record to 49-19 for the season.
While Antetokounmpo was excellent on his return from a three-game hand injury lay-off, Budenholzer saved his highest praise for Middleton.
"Khris was really special," the Bucks coach said. "He had a stretch in the third quarter, he had a stretch in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch the ball was in his hands; the execution, the decision-making, the shot-making was high level, and it's good to see. We've just got to continue to grow, the execution down the stretch was good.
"I think the first half was not our best and down the stretch with the ball in his hands, we do that a lot, and it's like falling into a good old habit. And he and Jrue [Holiday] and Giannis were good. Everybody played together and executed and Khris sometimes is that guy that's at the point of it."
Lopez and Sabonis fought a running battle that Budenholzer likened to a prize fight.
"We were just talking in the locker room. It was like a 15-round heavyweight boxing match," the coach said in his post-game press conference.
"Sabonis was incredibly impressive and I feel the same way about Brook. They're just two great players going at each other. His best stuff against Brook's best stuff. The whole game was a match-up to watch, Brook and Sabonis going against each other, and I think everybody got their money's worth.